Cast: Poo Ramu, Mime Gopi, Elvis Alexander, Anjali Nair
Nedunalvaadai begins with a ‘day-in-the-life-of’ montage of an old man. In the morning, we see him in a sugarcane field toiling under the hot sun. Later, we’re shown how this sugar cane gets crushed, juiced and boiled into balls of jaggery, even as the old man is busy making phone calls that go unanswered. In the night, we see him sit down for dinner, alone in a dark, empty room, with a picture of a young man hanging right above him. The phone calls, quite obviously, are for this young man in the picture, who smiles without a care in the world. The old man goes to bed, sad and alone, with tears in his eyes. And the kerchiefs are out of the pocket.
He wakes up the next day and the routine is repeated. But that’s until a passerby enquires about his grandson. He crumbles to the ground and is immediately taken to the hospital where he’s put on life-support. Another tear rolls down his eyes; we cut to vignettes from the lives of the grandfather and grandson, tracing the incidents that led to this hospital bed. And this is the second call to keep all kerchiefs ready.
These vignettes, too, follow a similar setup. We meet a young Elango, the grandson, who walks into the old man’s village with his mother and sister. There’s a shot of the sun, a shot of their sweat, close-ups of their tired faces, even as loud sentimental music plays in the background. They stop for a drink of water but there’s no relief nor is there rest.
Even later, when a certain sum of money is procured, which promises the family a certain of comfort, there’s a shot of Elango walking to the cupboard to keep the money, a close-up of him locking it and also a shot of the terrible uncle (who wants nothing to do with this family) walking into the house at that very moment.
By this point, we’ve sensed a pattern. We realize that all scenes are merely a buildup for something terrible to happen, removing hope almost completely from the equation. Even when Elango falls in love or finds a job, you’re not really expecting something wonderful to happen to him. It’s as though these characters are doomed to their destinies. But what’s worse is how the film manipulates some of its moments to elicit a reaction. For instance, in the aforementioned scene where the grandfather is shown eating alone, we’re conveniently hidden from the fact that there are others living with him.
It’s the same with the uncle character; his only purpose is to create trouble for the family, disappearing the second he has done the damage. Despite the earnest performances, there’s not much one feels for this film because of the masochistic nature of its leads. And the kerchiefs can return unused.